Current News – Well the blogs are being written so we must still be in San Francisco it’s been good to catch up with many things, family, friends, washing, tinkering on the bike and sight-seeing. Meanwhile back to Dawson City with blogs.
As the gold rush developed more and more sophisticated methods were employed as most of the easily accessible gold had already been found. The first dredge that arrived on Bonanza creek in 1901 was shipped to Dawson in pieces at an astronomical cost. What made that huge expense worthwhile was that these machines were the ultimate in gold extraction technology at that time and the gold they recovered would ensure they paid for themselves very quickly and make their investors a handsome profit.
One of our days in Dawson was spent exploring the No.4 dredge. Dredge No. 4 built in 1912 for the Canadian Klondike Mining Company was the largest wooden hulled bucket lined dredge in North America. It worked in the Klondike Valley on the “Boyle Concession” until 1940 and then was relocated to Bonanza Creek and worked this valley until 1959. This dredge was one of only a handful of surviving gold dredges that were used in this area to scour the ground for loose gold. It is now preserved as a historical artifact and better still we could go for a guided tour around it.
Our guide was very friendly and enthusiastic and hailed many years ago from Devon in England. We were lucky enough to have a personal tour as we were the only people booked in at that time slot.
We had seen pictures of dredges on water and based on this were under the false assumption that they were used to extract gold from beneath natural ponds and lakes. Dredges actually made their own pond as they moved along or more accurately a huge gang of men armed with steam pokers and massive amounts of water made it weeks in front of the dredges as the men melted the permafrost. The dredge filled these temporary ponds with its spoil which was ejected out of the back by a conveyor belt.
The dredge anchored itself to the bottom with one of its two “spuds” a huge timber spike which was dropped. The massive chain of buckets were then lowered into the water and gravel and scooped up everything in its path into the bowels of the dredge. The dredge was then pivoted on the spud so it swept the radius of the melted area clean before raising the spud, moving forward a few feet and starting the whole process again. In an eight month season working 24/7 a dredge would only move about half a mile. The picture is looking out of the control room to the bucket excavator (the buckets are not on the belt).
Once the water, gravel and rocks were inside the dredge it was fed into the separation drum called the trommel (like a massive spinning washing machine drum). A pipeline sprayed high pressure water in to help wash smaller gold-bearing gravel through the holes. The size of the holes were such that gold and gravel would pass through them whilst bigger rocks would pass straight through and out the back via another bucket chain.
Ironically really big nuggets of gold went straight out the back with the large rocks as there was no means of trapping them but this was accepted as nuggets that size were pretty rare and the dredges were extremely efficient at trapping virtually all the more common small gold pieces. Apparently big nuggets do occasionally turn up in the spoil and even now some people have found them but you generally have to move a heck of a lot of rock or be very lucky. Needless to say we turned over quite a few rocks when we were looking around but we weren’t that lucky. These photos show the exit route of the large rocks out the back.
Everything that dropped through the holes in the drum then went through to riffled wooden sluice tables covered in coconut matting which screened out the gold in stages relying mostly on more water and the golds weight to separate it from the other materials which were then ejected out the back with the other spoil. Next to Karen is an example of the wooden riffled sluice tables and the matting.
In effect a dredge was a huge mechanised gold pan, they could process massive amounts of material. Dredge no.4 could process 1088 metric tons of gravel an hour. That’s 13’372 cubic metres or 18’000 cubic yards every 24 hours.
Each bucket weighed 2100 kg (4600 pounds) and lifted 813kg (approx 1 tonne) of gravel on each pass.
When we initially rode into Dawson we wondered what the huge mounds of gravel that surrounded the town were all about, there were miles of them and they looked a bit like huge wormcasts. The tour revealed they are the spoil ejected out of the dredges and the rippled pattern was caused as the conveyor scoops emptied at regular intervals, the ripples are still clearly showing even now some 100 years after they were made. To give you some idea of scale each one must be 20 to 30 feet high and about the same width. Karen is standing atop some of the tailings from the dredge.
We at first assumed these enormous machines were steam-powered and indeed some smaller ones were but amazingly this one was powered entirely by electricity. It wasn’t generated by steam turbines either but was supplied by a hydro-electric plant some 60 kilometres away. Huge cables were laid overground to supply it and a spin off was that Dawson city was one of the first electrified towns in the Yukon.
Here are some pictures of the main control station, have a look at some of the scary looking electrics up here. Apparently it was the best paid job on the dredge and one of the warmest as all the rheostats gave off a lot of heat. The chain buckets angle and slew was controlled from here as was the speed of the sieving drum. Throughout the dredge you can see control levers running up to the bridge to stop and start winches and electric motors and surprisingly it only took a crew of three to run the entire dredge.
Three men on the dredge could handle 700 cubic yards of gravel in 20 hours equal to 156 men working with pick and shovel. Although this one was electric the steam operated dredges were also economical, using 3 1/10 cords of wood per day at $12 per cord, they were also not restricted by power cables but required more manpower.
The dredges were made out of wood and fires were an all too familiar problem so Dawson had a fully equipped fire fighting team which is now a museum. Established in 1898 it is the oldest fire department in the Yukon.
This 1896 Clapp & Jones Steam Fire Engine was the second engine to be purchased in Dawson city and put into service in 1900. Capable of pumping 500 gallons a minute, the double engine meant that one pump was always running, thus resulting in a near constant stream of water. The steamer had two suction and discharge openings, allowing either side to be connected for use. The frame of the steamer rests on springs, which would have helped it to run smoothly on the rough roads of early Dawson.
The third engine to be bought was the 1899 Waterous Steam pumper it could pump a maximum of 1300 gallons per minute and had to be pulled by 4 horses due to it weight (5.5tons). After it’s purchase this pumper had several additions added and alternative uses were found for it. The firefighters added more valves and piping to the side of the engine so that it could be used as part of the fire hall’s heating supply. When the engine was being used for this purpose, the boiler was always running. This became very useful when there was a fire in the community, because it would only take 5 minutes to get a full head of steam required to create the necessary level of pressure for use.
The 1927 International 2.5 Ton Speed Wagon, Hose, Ladder and Chemical Truck, to give it is full name, is the oldest working vehicle in their collection. It can regularly be seen in town parades, usually providing Diamond Tooth Gertie and her dancing girls with a ride.
This 2.5 ton pumper is from the 1940′s and is still in working order mainly coming out for parades.
This is a Keystone Churn Drill used to take core samples to make gold digging more profitable. Around six of these drills were used in the Dawson area in 1907.
In 1899 big things were planned for the Klondike Mines Railway completed by 1906 lots of gold seekers meant over 31 miles of track were laid right up to the summit of King Solomon’s Dome with plans for expansion. In a bizarre twist the dredges marked the demise of the railway, it was no longer a poor man’s rush and the population declined so by 1911 services were cut, coupled with the first annual closure for the winter the writing was on the wall and KMRy was doomed.
The locomotives are all that remain of the Klondike Mines Railway’s rolling stock which once included a first class passenger car, a baggage car and 23 box and flat cars. The rails were torn up, ties were left to rot and the rail bed was quickly overgrown. A group of local residents saved the locomotives in 1961 moving them to the museum.
“Peggy” has the distinction of being the KMRy’s first locomotive purchased in 1902 although she was also the least used in her role as a stand-in, she did however play a major role in the construction of the line itself. Loaded weight 82,000 lbs.
The most hard working was KMR No.2 put to work in 1906 and used until the railway closed in 1913. By 1961 when the museum got her she was in dismal condition the steam stack was knocked off and the pilot and cab were gone. Until the locomotive shelter was built in 1987 she resided in Minto Park in Dawson. Dawson City Museum undertook a partial restoration, retaining as much original material as possible.
KMR No.3 had the dubious title of the powerful but difficult to handle loco, purchased in 1906 she did most of her work in the last three years of service running freight to the goldfields. Today KMR No.3 also holds the unique honour of being the only existing Vauclain compound outfitted with the original system in Canada. Loaded weight 159,000 lbs.
The interior of the museum had lots of history on Dawson city with dummies enhancing the displays, members of the city had paid a donation to have their hands cast for the dummies and a little note was on each to describe the owner. The museum also had a mammoth tusk.
Next up – Tombstone NP